The rich really aren't like you and me. That's what Wednesday Martin discovered when, as a sort of embedded anthropologist doing field work in uppercrust Manhattan, she moved to the Upper East Side and met women who are educated but don't work, instead receiving annual wife bonuses from their husbands who make bank in finance careers. And she wrote all about it in her forthcoming memoir "Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir" (Simon & Schuster, June 2).
In a New York Times op-ed piece describing her years as both a friend and observer of this tribe of well-heeled, over-educated women, Martin, who trained in both anthropology and primatology, writes of her shock when she learned about annual wife bonuses.
"A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup, and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance — how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a 'good' school — the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks."
Martin paints herself as a friend to the subjects she studies, but one wonders what her friends feel about the analogy that she studied them "like an urban Dian Fossey," according to the "Primates" Amazon page, referring to the famous gorilla anthropologist. (She says they always knew she wasn't undercover.) And her op-ed with its patronizing title, "Poor Little Rich Women," suggests that her conclusion is that this sort of financial hierarchy points to a larger societal hierarchy: with men on top.
"But what exactly did the wife bonus mean?" Martin writes in the op-ed. "It made sense only in the context of the rigidly gendered social lives of the women I studied. The worldwide ethnographic data is clear: The more stratified and hierarchical the society, and the more sex segregated, the lower the status of women."
As the men make millions and hold positions of power, argues Martin, "the privileged women with kids who I met tend to give away the skills they honed in graduate school and their professions — organizing galas, editing newsletters, running the library and bake sales — free of charge."
What's the ultimate outcome of what Martin calls "Mommynomics," the exchange of status for money?
"The wives of the masters of the universe, I learned, are a lot like mistresses — dependent and comparatively disempowered."